Well Made

Ep. 113 Trying to Do Right with Alden Wicker

April 8, 2020 · RSS · Apple Podcasts

With fewer cars on the road, COVID-19 could lead to the biggest drop in emissions since WWII, but this stat doesn't paint a full picture of the pandemic's environmental impact. Sustainability is complicated, and journalist Alden Wicker is an expert in navigating the nuances.

Alden worries that the strain on businesses could set back environmental progress by a decade. In Bangladesh, one million apparel factory workers have been laid off due to a shortage of new orders and huge businesses like JCPenney, Kohl's and Walmart declining to pay for orders — over $3B worth. Through the lens of sustainability, Alden is not only concerned about where those clothes might end up, but how these dire circumstances have already lead to the suspension of significant environmental regulations.

In this episode, Alden and Stephan discuss how these challenges have magnified issues in the apparel supply chain and Alden shares her three-prong solution for true environmental impact that's not solely reliant on conscious consumerism.

“We need to start diverting all of these resources that we're pouring into educating the consumer, and start putting them into organizing again, and thinking about how we can build a systemic change that benefits a lot of people.”

COVID-19 has halted factory work and transportation for many sectors. Stephan and Alden discuss how factories in countries like Bangladesh are grappling with huge brands using the force majeure clause to avoid paying for apparel that's already been produced (6:54) leaving everyone wondering — what's going to happen to all those clothes when the season has passed? (6:54)

It seems like everyday, a new company is making significant team cuts to COVID-19. Everlane recently received blowback after laying off a large portion of their team. Meanwhile, fast fashion brand H&M has taken small steps in the right direction. Now they're one of the few brands that's committed to paying for their orders from factories. Alden and Stephan discuss the responsibility of sustainable brands in a time of COVID-19 (11:20).

Alden shares how the EPA's recent halt on environmental restrictions could lead to the fashion industry losing a decade's worth of progress (18:05), then she dives into how coronavirus has impacted Amazon (29:52). She shares her sustainability criteria for brands that she shares on her site, Eco Cult (33:52). She reflects on her article Conscious consumption is a lie and breaks down the complexity of true change into three pillars: consumers, experts, and legislation (40:13). To show how legislation can make real change, Alden shares how, in the aftermath of the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza, brands worked together to pass The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (46:46).

To wrap up, Alden and Stephan discuss the many tradeoffs businesses have to make for sustainability, and how Lumi uses Sustainability Properties to better define those tradeoffs (51:39). Stephan explains Lumi ID — a packaging identification system that helps brands communicate packaging decisions and tradeoffs to their customers (59:29).

Also mentioned on the show:

Header image by Charles Fox for UN Women Cambodia.

You can find this and all future episodes on iTunes, Google Play, and here on the Lumi blog. This episode was edited by Evan Goodchild.

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